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The Will

How important is it to have a will?

Jeremy in Georgia, 67

A will is a crucial document that must be taken care of well in advance of the end of your elder’s life. Do not allow your elder to die intestate (without a will). When your elder doesn’t have a will, the state may take over. It can become very complicated, and you’re sure to lose a hefty percentage of the true value of the estate. By making a will and assigning power of attorney, an elder will feel comforted that his/her wishes will be carried out.

Wills are often changed, so be ready to execute more than one document over time. And remember, anytime someone signs a will, there must be a witness. The original should be kept with the lawyer, and a copy should be included with your elder’s other legal documents.

Complications also arise when a second family or step-family is involved. All variables should be well thought out, such as who is included and not included in the will. One way to leave someone out of a will is to give them $1 exactly. This way, they can’t say they were overlooked or that your elder was incompetent. A plan was put in place to include them. I’ve seen this happen far too frequently. Anyone who contests a will can hold up the process for years, even if they have limited legal grounds to stand on.

It’s very important to appoint the right person as executor or executrix of the will. Your elder must have confidence that he or she will carry out the full instructions of the will. Often, the executor of a will has retired or died or moved or is otherwise unreachable. This is one reason why the executor is usually a family member, a trusted family friend, or a lawyer. Someone must be named as the beneficiary to your elder’s estate or it will be left to the state. Sadly, I’ve seen this happen many times, and family members can do little except deal with their shock.

Don’t draft your elder’s will yourself or allow him/her to do it either. If a will is not prepared in accordance with state laws, it could easily be challenged by other heirs and family members who are unhappy with its contents. This leaves the estate open to hefty legal fees and prolonged, maneuvers that could have easily been avoided.

A word about taxes. When a will is executed after someone has passed away, the executor has the responsibility to pay all of the bills and taxes before the heirs can be paid. What most don’t understand, even many executors, is that the law allows only nine months to pay the taxes for the estate that is being probated. After nine months of non-payment, additional fines and penalties are imposed on the estate. So make sure this is handled well ahead of time to lessen any loss to your elder’s estate.

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